FTC’s child privacy settlement will bring big changes to YouTube and children’s security online


Catherine Xu

sources: Forbes and Youtube

Catherine Xu, Arts&Style editor

In September, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and New York Attorney General sued YouTube for gathering children’s personal information without parental consent, a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). YouTube agreed to pay $170 million in total: $136 million to the FTC and $34 million to the state of New York. According to NBC News, this is the largest fine over a COPPA case since the act was originally passed in 1998. 

COPPA states that for an online service or website to legally collect information from children younger than 13, it must have parental consent. Although YouTube has stated that it is a 13+ service, a large portion of its viewers are ultimately children, so the FTC claims that it is subject to COPPA. As a result, YouTube not only has to pay millions, but it is forced to change to abide by the law in the future. This includes removing all comments, notifications and personalized ads on content targeted toward children. 

“I don’t think [this change] should have too large of an impact on most creators,” senior Andrew O’Rourke said. “Since it’s cracking down on children’s channels, these will likely be the channels that are going to be seen getting demonetized.” 

YouTubers who expect to be affected, such as toy reviewers MyFroggyStuff and Mommy’s World, are anxious about these adjustments. It’s unclear how drastically this decision will impact their income and audience.

“The changes will force creators to come up with new and innovative ways to make revenue,” sophomore Sharon Santos said. “If that is not possible, YouTube could experience a decrease in the amount of content created for young audiences.” 

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said on the official YouTube blog that as a result of these anticipated consequences, a $100 million fund would be dedicated to the creation of kids’ content. Despite these worries, many commentators both inside and outside of the YouTube world feel that change was crucial for the sake of children. 

“Most child-related content is kind of creepy to some degree,” O’Rourke said. “These channels all either use kids as actors in their videos or try to exploit them for views. For the channels involved in this, I think they had it coming.” 

With the internet becoming increasingly accessible to younger audiences, it has become progressively more difficult to know exactly what children are watching on video services. 

Inappropriate and malicious videos are not new and continue to pose a major problem on YouTube. 

“I think a lot of blame falls on the individual channels producing this children’s content, but the site is also at fault for not doing more to control the issue,” O’Rourke said.

To many parents, the presence of this content and the lack of protection for children on the internet is alarming. When the FTC brought up the issue of COPPA with YouTube, concerned parents defended its decision to press charges.

“[If] you start sharing my 10-year-old’s likes, dislikes and profile information to anybody, I’m not a fan of that,” programming teacher Matt Keel said. “If that means people lose out on advertising dollars because they’re not getting my 10-year-old’s personal information, too bad for them.”

It is clear that some channels that feature toys, roleplay and gaming on YouTube are targeted toward children and knowingly collect information from them through personalized ads. FTC’s charges over COPPA have shined a light on this behavior. 

“YouTube has been getting away with this unjustly for a while,” O’Rourke said. “This was an inevitable change.”

Parents, creators and viewers alike await the results of this case, as well as the specific changes YouTube will make. YouTube’s blog post leaves many questions unanswered. What is considered a child-directed channel? How will the $100 million fund be dispersed? Though they are worried about the situation, many agree that it is an important advancement for the protection of children online. 

“The point of it is to protect children,” Keel said. “Nobody can really argue with that.”